Archive for Saturday, February 17, 1996

REGENTS DEBATE PAYMENT PROPOSAL

February 17, 1996

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— A vote on a plan that would allow $500,000 balloon payments to top university officials was postponed.

William Docking, brother of a former Kansas lieutenant governor, sniffed the political wind Thursday and didn't like the odor.

He said in a state with a wildly populist tradition, it'd be foolish to put on the fast track a proposal that would make top officials at Kansas University and five other Kansas Board of Regents universities eligible for $500,000 deferred compensation packages.

Like a cowboy trying to outride a cyclone, regents could soon find themselves chased by political turbulence if the public turned against the program.

A planned vote in March on the proposal could stir up anti-regent sentiment in the middle of the 1996 legislative session.

"I worry this issue could be divisive," said Docking, an Arkansas City regent who is a brother of former Lt. Gov. Tom Docking.

He said the proposal also could create credibility problems for the regents universities by appearing elitist.

Top leaders of the six universities make more than $100,000 annually. KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway earns $160,000.

After a little more wrangling, regents agreed to postpone a vote on the plan until at least April.

Under the "Leadership Award and Recognition Program," university chief executives and staff at the level of university vice president would be eligible for $500,000 deals designed to convince them not to seek greener pastures.

Candidates must have five years of continuous, full-time university service. Recipients must work at least six years from the time of the award to receive any money.

Payments would be financed by private donors. Cumulative awards for any person couldn't top a principal amount of $500,000. No award could exceed $50,000 annually. Funds couldn't be released until an employee's separation, under good terms, from university service.

Regents Chairman John Hiebert, Lawrence, supports the plan.

An innovate approach is required to retain the best and brightest university executives, said Sid Warner, a Cimarron regent.

"The most critical people we have in our system are the CEOs and what I call the lieutenants," he said.

Alan Black, KU Faculty Senate leader, told regents the proposal could create inequity in the compensation of university officials. For example, the capacity of KU to raise private funds outstrips the ability of Pittsburg State University to generate donations.

KU's student body president, Kim Cocks, asked regents if they were considering a solution to a nonexistent problem. Is administrative turnover high or low?

Ted Ayres, regents general counsel, said other institutions had tried to raid the leadership cupboard at regents universities.

"We've come close to losing CEOs," he said.

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